WINTER HAVEN — A large-scale prostitution sting by the Polk County Sheriff's Office led to the arrest of 154 people, Sheriff Grady Judd announced at a news conference Tuesday.
Of those nabbed in what the agency called "Operation No Spring Fling," 69 are suspected prostitutes, 75 are suspected sex solicitors, eight were arrested on "related charges, such as deriving proceeds from prostitution" and two were arrests for allegedly traveling to meet a minor for sex.
The multi-agency operation was an effort to identify and aid potential victims of human trafficking, according to the sheriff's office. The operation was conducted over a six-day period, the agency reported.
Detectives and members of police departments from Lakeland, Winter Haven and Haines City contributed to sting.
According to Sheriff Grady Judd, the investigation revealed two of the suspects arrested were traveling to have sex with a person they believed was a 14-year-old boy.
Two women have been identified as victims of human trafficking, according to reports.
Judd said a 17-year-old boy who traveled to the undercover location was not charged with any crimes, but is being considered a victim of human trafficking.
“People should not be bought. People should not be sold,” said Christa Hicks, executive director of the anti-trafficking advocacy group One More Child. The organization is dedicated to counseling and rehabilitation services for victims of human trafficking.
According to reports, the suspects ranged in age from 17-69 years old.
Total charges numbered 46 felonies and 202 misdemeanor charges. Judd said that among the 154 suspects, there were a total of 567 previous felonies and 695 previous misdemeanor charges in their criminal histories.
"The primary goal in operations like this is to find victims of human trafficking who are being manipulated into prostitution. Prostitution is also a public safety issue involving the spread of diseases, the use of and dealing in illegal drugs, and other criminal activity that is associated with prostitution,” Judd said. “It should be well-known by now that Polk County is not a good place to be involved with prostitution, thanks to operations such as this.”
Kathy Leigh Berkowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7558.